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How Sean McVay makes the tight end sneak play his own

The sneak play is regularly successful in the NFL, and it’s fitting the Rams head coach works it into his robust offensive scheme.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Ok y’all, try not to scream in excitement with me but guess what, NFL TRAINING CAMPS START IN A WEEK! Football is so darn close we can smell it. And in the spirit of that feeling, I’ve started to review my favorite plays from the 2018 season, just to get fired up for what I should expect this season.

The best offensive minds in the game, whether they are head coaches (most of them are) or just the offensive coordinators, always adapt. They are innovative. They are flexible. They enjoy implementing new concepts. None of this is earth shattering but I felt it needed to be said. The absolute best are able to take common concepts, or concepts they’ve seen once or twice and twist them to fit their scheme, leading to a home run play. Those are some of my favorite things to study on film.

Quite possibly my favorite NFL route concept/play is the tight end sneak play. It’s so simple, yet so effective and it’s often a home run. The play is often run in base personnel, meaning there’s only two wide receivers on the field. The quarterback fakes a handoff, most often to his left and the weak side of the formation, then rolls back to the right, mimicking a typical boot play. The receivers run an over (deep cross) and a go, while the tight end attempts to hide himself in the line scrimmage. As he attempts to hide himself, he runs next to the big uglies, away from all the action. The defense reacts to the quarterback surveying the field to his right, plus the routes in their faces, and totally forget about the tight end. The quarterback stops in roll, plants, and throws back across the field to his wide open tight end and boom, home run.

Here’s an example of it from 2017, first in the broadcast view, and then in the All-22 view. O.J. Howard gets wide open down the left sideline and scores an easy 33-yard touchdown.

Broadcast angle

All-22 angle

This type of play is called a “shot.” You’re taking a shot at a home run play and it’s called most often in the high red zone, or maybe a tad further out, because of the tight end speed. Shot plays are rotated in and out by the week or the month, clearly so the defense doesn’t get a read on the play. For being a shot play, this concept is run quite frequently in the NFL, because it works often.

It only makes sense that a team would adapt this play to fit their style. Rams head coach Sean McVay did just that, tweaking this to fit his wide receiver heavier formations.

This throwback play is often run with base personnel on the field for the offense. Traditionally, that’s two wide receivers and a combination of tight ends, running backs and a possibly fullback to make up the three other skill position players. It allows the tight end to match up against a slower linebacker, rather than a safety.

Well, the Rams have a different version of “base personnel.” According to Sharp Football’s offensive personnel grouping frequency for 2018, the Rams were in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1TE, 3WR) 89 percent of the time — easily first in the NFL.

If the Rams wanted to run this concept, they needed to make it their own. And, boy did they ever.

The Rams put their own spin on this play with standout receiver Cooper Kupp. The quarterback and offensive line action is different than the usual tight end throwback but the routes are the same. I took a freeze frame of the Rams play and a throwback play so y’all can see it for yourself. And FYI, this screen shot is a different tight end throwback than in the video. This is much clearer.

Sean McVay has time and again shown an ability to be creative in adapting his offense to an evolving NFL. His play-calling regularly creates mismatches and we see it here. Anthony Barr is a Pro Bowl linebacker, but asking him to stick with Kupp on this kind of play is simply unfair.

This is my favorite part about watching this kind of film. I just love seeing coaches adapt, evolve and make concepts their own.